What are your views on the government's use of informants in prosecuting drug crimes?


Justice is ensured in part by mainting innocence until guilt is proven. Hence, when verbal testimonies conflict (one party claims one thing, the other denies the claim) ADDITIONAL physical evidence must be sought to before any person's claim can have more epistemic "weight" than anothers. Clearly, Fontline's prgram on "snitchers" has showed the citizens of the United States just how far Congress can "undo" our assurance of justice being served in these very specific cases as presented by Frontline. Please, what can be done to help these victims of Congress's gross error?

Kent Slinker
glasgow, ky


Thank you for presenting the program "Snitch" last night on PBS. I have already written my congressman and encourage all those who want to help to do the same. It is only by letting our representatives know how we feel that anything will change. A number of laws do need to be corrected, but, it is the methods of enforcement of those laws by the current "Justice Department" that has lead to the problems your program points out. It is up to each of us as Americans to insist that our government respect our constitutional rights. The government has no right to wage any kind of war on its citizens. Drug prohibition will never work. It will only produce a large criminal element, destroy many lives and make some people, very rich.

Ed Seckler
ballwin, missouri


We are amazed when faced with information that shows just how little we have evolved in this country. We expect injustice in other countries, but pride ourselves in being fair, just, reasonable and intelligent. Your story on snitches exposes are legislators, prosecutors and law enforcers for what we really are, shallow and uninformed and uninvovled. We have the money and resources to wage a decent war against drugs, but would rather look for quick, good sounding "campaign slogans" to do the job. Congress has out done themselves this time in finding a new way to be more racist, and exploitive of the poor, while also being totally ineffective in dealing with a serious problem which will ultimately costs the taxpayer even more money! What insanity and inhumanity. We all must carry the shame or do some thing about it now!

Sharon Name
coos bay, oregon


Dear Frontline, I first want to commend you for a job well done, we need more programs like this to show the foolish laws that are rushed through the congress for the sole purpose of boasting at election time. I cannot believe this is happening in America. The war on drugs is ridiculous, their are just as many drugs now as there were then and they will never stop them as long as people use them. The American people better start to think about these kind of laws and the holier than thou politicians who write them because it has gotten out of hand. Most of the people who I have known in my life could easily been set up in a similiar manner for a youthful indiscretion. Drugs are so prevalent in all areas of the country, I am beginning to wonder where these people live. In regards to the federal prosecutors, I am not sure if it is their lust for recognition or higher office, but the lengths that they go to in order to get their man is absurd. I am totally disallusioned with the justice system in general. I have never had as much as speeding ticket but god forbid if I get caught with a joint or other substance, I guess I would have a better chance if I murdered someone. Write your congressmen, I will and often.

whiting, nj


I am a registered nurse in Vancouver, B.C. I am originally from Northern Californina. Once again I am shocked at the capacity for evil in the prusuit of power and money which the war on drugs represents. The war on drugs is a war which serves only two parties, the criminal justice industry and the international drug cartels. It turns what is so clearly a public health problem into profits for politicians, businessmen and organized crime. The constitution is totally trampled underfoot while its allegedly conservative protectors prattle on about the war on drugs. I hope everyone keeps fighting this horrendous evil in every way they can. And a word of thanks to the people who produced this show for their courage.

Joel Hawthorne
vancouver, bc


The drug problem in this nation is not nearly as damaging as the laws and legislators trying to curb it. Congressman McCullum and Senator Sessions should understand the long term harm they are doing to our great nation long after the last drug addict dies. This "war" is not on drugs, it's an all-out assault on the freedoms my forefathers died for. Have these right-wing zealots no shame or patriatism.

Kevin Harmon
moreno valley , california


I do not understand how Mr. Aaron's friends, who admitted to drug use and some of them with prior convictions were believed but Mr. Aaron who they had no material evidence against, no prior's and could not even place him at the scene of a crime could convict him. I thought you were still innocent until proven guilty in this country. We are taught from children up not to be a tattle tale and to mind our own business. Yet when we grow up we are supposed to believe that snitching to the police is the right thing to do? We watch movies and TV programs that show people being killed constantly for ratting others out. Prosecutors are bankrupting our country by sending small time offenders to jail. Make them do community service, get counseling, and get a job. Letting people sit in jail with three meals a day, a TV, books, and a roof over there head is better than most of our homeless have it. Quit making the problem worse and do something constructive that costs a lot less money. Or does this solution cut lawyers, prosecutors, judges, FBI, out of there next Mercedes payment?

wilmington, nc


The downsizing of corporations has caused more harm to communities and families than the government's war on drugs. This war is a war on people. Sen. Hatch states we must protect our children. The nation's children are in these prisons. This is the new inquisition which provides jobs(prison,law enforcement) while further eroding individual rights. Are we changing from democracy to police-state?

Melody Daniel
moab, utah


I watched the story on snitches, and I was not only disturbed, but disgusted by the way the justice system is so grossly corrupt that innocent people are not only losing their lives, they are losing their dignity as well. How can we as a nation stand by and let things like this happen to our own? Yes, there is a drug problem, but by having the drug dealers snitch on others so they can get a lesser sentence and a larger number of arrests can be made does not solve the problem. Let's arrest the real drug kingpins, and first time offenders can perhaps get a scare or shock camp, but not three consecutive life sentences without parole. What is really going on here? How can we have faith in a justice system that doesn't serve justice. And people wonder why our kids don't have respect for justice and doing what's right, let's have the system do right by us for a change.

Patricia Dugovic
rochester, ny


Your show on "Snitches" reminded me of the book "1984" in the way that this new tactic created by our government in the 1980's instills paranoia in people, convicts the wrong people and distorts the meaning of truth and justice to serve itself. Our forefathers would be turning over in their graves if they saw this infringement on people's constitutional rights and the injustice of more serious criminals being given less punishment than those individuals who made very small mistakes. The clearest indicator of the failure of this new law enacted by Congress is its outcome - there has been no significant decrease in the amount of drug activity in this country since its enaction. Moreover, it has done much more harm than good - destroying the lives of innocent citizens who now no longer believe in the values of democracy in this country.

It's time to end this unjust law!

Naomi Shank
boston, ma


I always thought that the term "justice" implied "fairness". What is happening as a result of the mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses is frightening. Let's face it, this could happen to any of us, but it is more likely to happen to those who are not white. Can anything be done to help Clarence Aaron?

Lynn Sheridan
kingston, ri


The closing of your show seemed very poignant. When asked what sentence the juror thought Clarence Aaron desrved/received he said "not much. Maybe 3 to 5 years. He seemed like a promising kid." The expression on that man's face when told Mr Aaron received 3 concurrent life terms sent a chill up my spine. I like it when he said I "wish you hadn't told me that." but I'm glad you did. Sentencing guidelines take the judgement out of being a judge and excluding the jury from the penalty phase of the trial, in the case of this man (and how many others?), gives those jurors the illusion of doing justice.

Our governments policy of having a war on something, wether it be poverty, homlesness, aids or drugs has never worked.

lansing, mi


After viewing your program on the 12th of Jan. I have never been more outraged in my life. While our congressmen fritter away our tax dollars on extremely questionable impeachment hearings of a popular president, people like Clarence Aaron are doomed to a living hell in federal prisons due to the testimony of individuals who would lie about anything and anybody to escape the same fate. Your program is a perfect illustration of how far removed our legislators are from the realities of everyday life. This issue of Frontline should be required viewing for every American of voting age. How people like Orin Hatch and the federal prosecutors responsible for corrupting the American judicial system is a much higher crime than anything a low level drug dealer or user has ever perpetrated on our society. The drug war has become the Vietnam of the nineties, and I can only pray that some organization exists to counterbalance the callous ways in which our elected officials have elected to fight this problem.

James Yedinak
monongahela, pa


I think the use of informants is helpful in fighting drug crimes. However, it must be done responsibly. It is unconscionable that, according to your report, the burden of proof threshhold is dropped significantly in these cases, and that people have been sent to prison on the strength of hearsay evidence. It's fine to use a snitch to identify suspects, but there must be hard evidence to convict!

new york, new york


My prayers go out to the family of Clarence Aaron. I am deeply toubled by the actions of the federal government. As a nautral citizen of the United States, born and raised, I never in my wildest dreams could imagine a travesty of this magnitude happening in this coutry. Is there anyone out there to come to this young mans rescue???. I am not a legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but if there is any thing I can do to help this poor young man's plight, I am here.

elaine johnson
hillside, nj

click for more

navigation, see below for text
home | two cases | pro/con | primer | inside the mind | ending leniency
the producer | readings | discussion | synopsis | press | tapes & transcripts
frontline online | pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
Some Images Copyright 1999 Photodisc